Last week I attended my first ever TEDx event here in Winnipeg. Here are my thoughts.
Looking at the session list, I went in wondering how this disjointed collection of talks could make sense. I didn't see a cohesive story, which you typically see in other track-based conferences. A few talks in I started to “get it” though. TED isn't just about the sessions, its about bringing people from different walks of life together to share their life experiences and knowledge. This isn't a track-based event, but a people based event. It’s a microcosm of what we should be trying to achieve in our social interactions — diversity and openness to learning from and about others regardless of career, age, gender, or geography.
While I think the intention was to continue that sentiment through the break times, I felt those could have been organized a bit better and been a bit shorter (1 hour breaks?). There was a lot of networking happening, but it was all ad-hoc and I had no idea what other attendees’ interests were. We all submitted three things we could be asked about, but these were printed in small font on the name-tags which were hard to see unless you were really close to someone.
For a $25 ticket the food and refreshments were great — healthy options, nothing heavy, and having it set up outside was a great way to alleviate congestion in the venue.
Also the event staff were fantastic — very friendly, accommodating, and willing to help with whatever. My name-tag was missing (someone took it by accident) but they still got me in and even found me later when my name-tag was returned to the registration desk. Kudos to the event team!
The speakers…such amazing speakers! The sessions I initially thought I’d have limited interest in have been the ones I keep telling people about and whose message still resonates with me days later.
Dr. Nicole Buckley tied space health and ageing research together; when we put seniors into homes, we’re basically putting them into space: small, cramped quarters with no friends or family around, limited possessions, and people who you’re forced to live with. Astronauts only do this for a limited time, but we expect our elderly to live out their days this way…why?
Janet Schmidt provided one of the most personal and powerful messages of the day — we all have good and bad traits, but we are not binary values; we are not a 1 or 0, good or bad, we are both. The negative traits that others can point out to us and help us realize doesn't negate all the amazing that we are. So often we focus on the negative when we should be focusing on us as a whole.
Madison Thomas gave us a glimpse into what people from non-privileged neighbourhoods and families have to grapple with to find success. “You can be whatever you want to be when you grow up” isn't always told to children when it should; some will need to be stronger to reach their goals. We as a society need to help lift them up.
Matt Cohen gave us insight into Winnipeg’s past through ghost signs — the turn-of-the-(last)-century advertising painted on the various brick buildings that we can still see today, and the story these advertising fossils tell of the evolution of marketing.
Dan Blair, instead of just talking about how cool virtual reality is, challenged us to embrace the technology to tell our stories and transport people to places they otherwise could never see (and that a traditional ad or article could never convey).
I'm still trying to wrap my head around Alexandra Hasenpflug’s ability to see sound. I explain this talk to people and I can see them struggle to understand what that must be like, but what an amazing gift.
And there are others who talk about sleep science, bugs as food, being successful, motivating others, impacting our community, future of concussion science, and the importance of protocol. Luckily for everyone, the full recording of the event is available here, so go check out the talks and get inspired!
So Would You Go Again?
So would I go back to a TEDxWinnipeg event? Maybe. I'm still not sold on this idea that people have to apply to attend, although I also appreciate that the exclusivity means that you have a greater diversity of people from different demographics represented. There needs to be better ways to have these people connect though instead of ad-hoc interactions at lengthy breaks. If I were to attend again, I’d be doing some pre-eventing of my own: Finding out who else I know is attending, reaching out on the event’s social media properties to try and connect with people who have similar interests, and communicating what my interests are and what I look to get out of the event.
TED is all about ideas worth spreading. But ideas on their own mean nothing without action. That’s not on the event organizers — they just provide the opportunity for us to engage each other. Attendees have an active role in ensuring TEDxWinnipeg is more than just a fun time hearing good talks and that it results in real change for our city.